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In December of 2013, everything Will Eastman knew about his life was turned upside down. At age 45 and on the brink of starting a family of his own, Eastman accidentally discovered he was adopted. As a DJ, producer, and owner of U Street Music Hall, roles he had previously identified with—a son, a brother, an entrepreneur, and an artist—took on a whole new, albeit suddenly quite obscured, meaning. In 2014, Eastman embarked on a transformative journey to find his birth parents, discover his real identity, and figure out how exactly it all fit into the life he had already created for himself. Along the way, he learned the truth about his family, battled mental illness, and experienced intense emotions—all of which would culminate into his most personal music release to date, Free Fall.
“Derealization” introduces Eastman’s Free Fall EP with buzzy ambience and nearly palpable rising tension—sonically encapsulating what it felt like to discover his life was not exactly what it seemed. His wife, Mallory, was working on a family genealogy project when she found Eastman’s parent’s marriage certificate. “They were married five months before I was born, which of course didn’t jive with the narrative I had been told,” he recalls. “How do you go about this? Do you just call up your parents and say, ‘Hey, what the hell?’”
Eastman, a self-described “skinny DJ” who loves music and art, had sometimes wondered why he felt so different from his father, a bulky ex-marine who liked football. But he just chalked it up to paranoia. Determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, Eastman visited his family for Thanksgiving with an ancestry kit in tow.
“I told them I had been doing research on ancestry.com and wanted to make more connections because I was putting together a family tree and wanted to give it to the family for Christmas,” he explains. “But of course it wasn’t an ancestry kit—it was a paternity test.”
After he sent in his parent’s swabs for testing, neither of them came back as a match. He immediately called his half-sister, who is 12 years older than him. He was met with silence on the other end of the line. “I think you need to talk to mom and dad,” she said. As it turns out, Eastman’s mother had sworn her to secrecy never to tell. He then hopped on a plane to visit his parents in his home state of Wisconsin. “They knew right away when I showed up,” he remembers. “They had been living in fear my whole life that I’d find out.”
Outwardly, Eastman understood his adoptive parents’ reasoning for not revealing this to him sooner and appreciated them for always making him feel loved. “They never wanted there to be any barrier between us,” he says. “They were trying to protect me.” But everything that he once knew about himself and his family no longer held true and an identity crisis soon followed. “That’s like dying while you’re still alive” a colleague said to him when he told the story. It’s exactly how he felt at the time.
“Knowing You,” the second track on Free Fall, characterizes this experience with ominous synths and rhythmic churning. “The person that I was in some ways was an illusion,” Eastman explains. “It was a fabrication and when the truth came out, I could never be that person again.”
While Eastman was trying to process this revelation, he was simultaneously experiencing a psychological freefall and spiraling into a dangerous depression. “I was drinking a lot and I hadn’t yet started seeing a therapist or taking medication,” he admits. “I thought I had it, but it was too much.”
“Free Fall,’” the third track on the EP, embodies this chaotic time with an utterly weightless feel while haunting voices echo in the distance. Eastman sought the help of a therapist, who also happened to share in his shock of the situation at hand. He was diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder, an issue that lied dormant until being exacerbated by learning he was adopted. He was prescribed medication and experienced overwhelming support from his family, friends, and colleagues. That’s when he began to find the inner peace he had been yearning for.
As it turns out, Eastman is the son of a very young liberal couple in Hawaii. “They were hippie stoners,” he laughs. “Both my birth parents were obviously against the Vietnam War and spent a lot of time surfing, getting stoned, and going to protests.”
In 1968 at the age of 19, his birth mother became pregnant with him and decided to place him up for adoption out of fear it would damage her father’s career, which ironically was to help conduct air attacks in Vietnam. Out of all the couples that applied to adopt Eastman, his birth mother chose his adoptive parents, a working class couple in Wisconsin. His birth family then went on to take the hippie life to a whole new level, living off the land in a rural part of Seattle. In February of 2014, Eastman tracked down his birth family and what he found—kindred spirits in his birth parents and seven half-siblings—helped him feel more comfortable in his own skin than ever before.
“Part of the reason I was doing this genealogy was because I was trying to find me in my family—somebody who’s passionate about music; somebody who was an entrepreneur; somebody who was interested in museums, arts, literature, and culture,” he explains. “But then I met my birth family and I knew right away.” He was relieved to discover that his birth family has musicians on both sides and a businessman on his father’s side. “I’m not a black sheep. It’s not random.”
“Sunrise Song,” the last track on Free Fall, illustrates the clouds clearing with illuminating melodies, signifying Eastman’s positivity about the future. But this EP is only the beginning for Eastman: Throughout his journey, he channeled his volatile emotions into music, which became part of his unique healing process. “This is like a soundtrack of my brain,” Eastman says.
Another four-track EP will follow Free Fall and then conclude with a full-length, collaborative album featuring local artists like Outputmessage and TT the Artist. Eastman discovered his truth and is now focused on bringing attention to mental illness, alcoholism, and drug abuse—struggles that affect many members of the dance music community and beyond.
“We’re not gonna get anywhere in our country to help drug addiction or mental illness until we can get past the notion that it’s a choice or that it’s a character flaw” he says. Being honest about his experience has not only made Eastman a more genuine artist but also revealed an incredible support system in the D.C. community. “I never thought I would have an experience like that,” he admits. “But it gave me a new appreciation for a lot of things and I feel it’s really reconnected me to D.C.”